Humour is a comfortable component of my Speechreading courses. However, prior to PIDP 3100, I had been unaware of the vast benefits it can impart on students, their learning objectives, and their classroom experiences.
“Humor is a powerful force. It can encourage an atmosphere of openness, develop students’ divergent thinking, improve their retention of the presented materials, and garner respect for the teacher.”
Garner (2006) discusses the benefits of using humour in the classroom. Results of his study show that humour can be a robust tool that can engage students so they feel the information was communicated more effectively and significantly increase students’ abilities to retain and recall information. He cautions that humour must be specific to the subject material, be included primarily to enhance the learning environment, and be appropriate for the audience.
“Humor has psychological, social, and cognitive (educational) benefits. Humor has the power to make instructors more likable, approachable, facilitate comprehension, increase attentiveness, improve creativity, and promote social relationships.”
You can read about the many additional benefits of humour and laughter here, including stimulation of the cerebral cortex, promoting endorphin release, and alleviating anxiety and depression. It can encourage a sense of trust, set the tone for a relaxed atmosphere, and foster group cohesion. Humour also captures students’ attention and bolsters self-confidence and creativity.
Atherton (2013) provides guidelines for using humour in the classroom. My favourites were:
- Integrate humour into the main substance of the material rather than using one-off jokes, as it enhances learning and memory
- Never use humour that is potentially offensive to anyone
- Be sure to connect your humour to the material or topic. Keep it short, but identifiable.
- If you don’t remember if you’ve told a joke before, skip it. If there are typically jokes that you tell in a course, make a list and check them off as you go!
Humour is an essential part of my classroom. I use humour throughout my course by sharing stories of past students, giving examples of how to respond when you have misunderstood, and as a general recommendation for dealing with the daily struggle of living with a hearing loss. It is interwoven in how and what I instruct. I let my students know early in my course that I will use humour as a strategy (they have probably already experienced it if we are past the first class!), but I am also quick to say that I don’t believe that hearing loss or the difficulties it imparts are funny. I know they aren’t, but I ask ‘what are the alternatives?’ Anger? Depression?
Throughout the Speechreading course, we discuss how humour can diffuse a tense miscommunication. It can often effectively relay a message that is either ignored or misunderstood otherwise. A student once shared that since we had talked in class about using humour as a strategy, she was attempting to use humour to get her husband to understand her frustrations with his lack of accommodation at home. Despite her constant reminders that she needed him to look at her when he spoke, he repeatedly asked her questions when he was looking for something in the fridge. During one such occasion, she casually asked him about his girlfriend in the fridge. He looked at her quizzically. She replied, “you must not be talking to me, because I am sitting over here and couldn’t possibly hear you with your head in the fridge”. He smiled. When I asked her weeks later about the girlfriend in the fridge, she told me that she doesn’t come around very often anymore. Success!
When students relay real-life experiences with hearing loss, others in the class empathise and they laugh together. When a librarian told of a situation where she spent time showing a gentleman all the resources available on mushrooms, only to discover he had asked the whereabouts of the washroom, everyone chuckled and nodded knowingly. Being able to laugh at these experiences permits others to share their embarrassing situations and see that they certainly are not alone. I have seen the most reserved person in the class speak up and share a story when others have previously put themselves out there.
I put a joke related to hearing loss on the agenda each week, and we celebrate the end of the course with a slideshow of comics relating to hearing loss and communication. Past students email me to share when they find a good one, and I take that as a sign of an approved classroom tool! This post has allowed me to think about how and why I use humour in my teaching. While it was something I did naturally, I now see the many benefits it provides and the importance it plays in my teaching efforts.